Day At The Track

Down Under in NA - On The Rail With Sydney Weaver

07:36 AM 17 Jul 2018 NZST
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Sydney with Nike Franco N and Jim King, Jr.
Lisa Weaver photo
Sydney having a chat with Sky Major N
Lisa Weaver photo
Sydney petting Christen Me N with Jim King, Jr.
Lisa Weaver photo

Christen Me N, Nike Franco N, Kept Under Wraps A, Anythingforlove A, Sky Major N, Lazarus N, among many other champions who raced in Australia and or New Zealand before making their way to North America. Aside from their gifts of gait speed and racing racing ability they also brought with them an incredible power,  they united two harness racing industries in two hemispheres.

I am have been fortunate to see some of these now North American harness racing champions and sit along the rail to watch them race. I am always captivated by their racing ability. I have even had the chance to meet a few of them up and I am always a little star-struck when I do.

I find it inspiring how people have been brought together because of these horses. I wonder if in adjusting to a new climate, new people and new routines if these champions realize how they have positively impacted the global harness racing industry?

Personally, I have made new friends and made existing friendships stronger because of these champions. Here are my stories on some of the former  “Down Under” champions, racing in North America and the amazing friendships I made because of them.

He was known as the “the Prince” when he faced Terror To Love, at tracks across his native New Zealand. Chances are you do not who I am talking about, unless you are involved in New Zealand racing or are like me and follow it. But, in the barn and with those that knew him best, he was “CC”.

When the news broke that Christen Me N would be coming to race in the United States, I have to admit I was both thrilled and disappointed.  I have a soft spot for Christen Me N because he was the first New Zealand bred horse I took an interest in after I met his former driver Dexter Dunn in Ireland in 2016.

I was thrilled because this meant I would have the opportunity to watch him race, but I also knew that he would be greatly missed by many in New Zealand. Then, I remembered that him coming to the North America meant friendships would be created and that was a good thing. He would be showcasing the very best of New Zealand racing talent, in the place some argue is the pinnacle of harness racing- the United States of America.

Upon arrival in the United States, Christen Me N was placed in the care of Jim King Jr. and Joann Looney -King. I looked forward to the day that I would get to meet the famous “C.C”.

One day in early summer of 2017, I got my opportunity because he was entered to race at what was at that time Mohawk Racetrack .That afternoon, I stopped by the farm where the King’s were stabling to see him in addition to some other horses they had racing in Ontario.

As I arrived, Christen Me N was coming in from the paddock. He was so regal, standing there in the warmth of the sunshine while I admired him.

I was at a loss for words and he looked like he knew what I was feeling. I got a little closer and he bowed his head, allowing me to stroke his face, and give him a kiss. Meeting him is an experience I will remember and cherish.

That night he raced at what is now Woodbine- Mohawk Park, and of course I cheered. However, I was cheering him on for his fans in the southern hemisphere too. He unfortunately did not win that night, but just to be able watch him race live was a thrill for me. 

When I posted the pictures from our visit and of him racing the following day; my social media buzzed. I received comments about how he was doing and how his race went and a few friend requests from people in New Zealand. The photos were also shared by people in New Zealand. Knowing that the small gesture of posting a few pictures meant a great deal to so many people warmed my heart.

Next is my story of the horse who inspired this story- Nike Franco N. Nike Franco N is also is the care of Joann and Jim King Jr. I first met her on that same visit that I met ¨C.C” and she also raced on that same night.

When she began racing in North America, a person by the name of Amanda Grieve was always tagged in many posts on Twitter (tweets) about Nike Franco N. So, after I met Nike Franco and posted the pictures of us, I decided to send her a message and find out she loved this mare. It turned that when Nike Franco N raced in Australia, Amanda was the caretaker for top mare and trained her for a period of time too. 

Now Amanda and I talk every couple of weeks.Our friendship is all thanks to Nike Franco N. If it was not Nike Franco N being sold to American interests there is a very good chance that Amanda and I never would have met. 

Earlier this season, when Nike Franco N raced in Canada in the Roses Are Red elimination and final, I video chatted with Amanda from the rail at Woodbine- Mohawk Park and I turned the camera so she could see the race, even though she lives on the other side of the world we were both cheering on Nike Franco N who she affectionately calls “Darling”.  It was truly a special opportunity for me and one I will cherish forever.

In a recent conversation with Amanda,  she said something that tugged at my heartstrings and I felt was fitting for the sentiment of this very story.

She said, “You get very attached to them. Especially working with them every day. And travelling with them too. Yes, I do miss her. But, I am still watching her race now.”

 I can sympathize with how she feels, I would feel the same it was a horse I cared about. But, that is the great thing about social media. Nike Franco N may be across the Pacific [ocean], but the two of them are still connected through people in North America. Amanda is able to stay updated on Nike Franco N’s racing career and receive pictures is because of the friendships that Nike Franco N racing in North America has prompted.

The horses that have crossed the Equator that I have also made friendships that I had before their move much stronger.

Sired by Bettors Delight and foaled in 2011, Kept Under Wraps A was voted the two-year-old of the year for the state of Victoria. My friend Marcus Kirkwood owned a part of him, before Kept Under Wraps A was sold to North American interests. 

I became friends with Marcus through Twitter, and when I went to Australia in February of 2017, we met in person. So, now that Kept Under Wraps A in racing in the United States, I periodically check the entries and results pages on the United States Trotting Association website to see how he is doing and then I send Marcus a message with an update.

Anythingforlove A (spelled Anything For Love when racing in Australia) was bred by my friend Paul Humphreys. We became friends through social media and I also met him when I went to Australia in 2017.  When the horse had his first couple of starts in the United States, Paul and I messaged back and forth. I remember watching the race on my laptop. It was neat to be able to say “I know who bred that horse”. Anythingforlove gave us one more thing to talk about. 

The story of how I got to meet Sky Major N is unique. My dad was talking with the trainer of Sky Major N, Duane Marfisi, and he it came up in conversation where he happened to be stabled, turns out we were at the same training center. When my dad told me I was elated. My filly, a future champion, was stabled steps away from a former New Zealand champion.

Trevor Casey owns Sky Major N. I talk with his partner Kate Marriott often. I truly consider her a friend. During my visits with Sky Major N I gave him treats and kisses and my mom would take pictures. When I returned home I always sent Kate the pictures as soon as I could and told all about our visit. 

Similarly, Trevor Casey also owned a share of the world-renowned champion, Lazarus N. Now that Lazarus N is in the United States being trained by Jimmy Takter, I send Kate all of the news and pictures I see of Lazarus. It always makes my day to send her updates of both of these champions.

Every time the name of an overseas champion is printed in a North American [racing] program or their name graces a headline an “N” or an “A” is placed after their name to symbolize to everyone reading the program or the article they mentions them,  this horse is from Australia or New Zealand.

I think of it as a symbol of pride.That extra letter also symbolizes the countless hours of care, hard work and dedication that the team of people looked after them in Australia or New Zealand put in that made them into the champion that now races in North America.

I will forever be grateful for the friendships I have gained because of these horses. They have added so much joy to my life. I also look forward to creating many more friendships through these horses in the future.

To everyone who has ever loved, taken care of, trained, owned or driven one of these now North American champions, thank you. Thank you for making these champions who they are. Without you they would not have broken the records they did, had the jaw-dropping victories they did.

In addition, thank you for sharing your your champions with us here in North America. You will always be a part of who they are, no matter where in the world they race.

To everyone in North America who has a horse who previously raced in Australia and New Zealand, know that these horses are extra special. I encourage you to find out who the connections were when the horse raced in Australia and or New Zealand and connect with them, if you have not already. I hope through these dual hemisphere champions you will make friendships like I have.

These champions that have etched their names into greatness in both hemispheres make the big world seem a little smaller by bringing people together who are passionate about the same sport, but are oceans apart that is the power of these dual hemisphere champions.

Sydney Weaver is 18 years old and resides in Acton, Ontario, Canada. She has been involved with harness racing for years, groom's horses, jogs them on the track, owns both a Standardbred and a Thoroughbred racehorse and has already won major youth writing awards. Sydney also has Cerebral Palsy and spends most of her time in a wheelchair, but has never let her disability hold her back from achieving her goals. She will be attending Carleton University this fall in their Communications and Media Studies Honors Program.

Footnote: Since I began writing this piece, Christen Me N, “C.C.” is no longer in the care of the Jim King Jr. and Joann Looney-King, he is now with other caring connections.

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